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Rovanpera: Rougher Croatia WRC stages will require more puncture management

Kalle Rovanpera says this weekend’s World Rally Championship asphalt stages in Croatia are rougher than last year and will require more puncture management.

Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

McKlein / Motorsport Images

The reigning world champion won last year’s visit to Croatia after coming through a thrilling final stage showdown with then Hyundai driver Ott Tanak.

While the route is largely unchanged from last year, Rovanpera believes the roads are rougher and will feature more cuts with more sharp edges on the sections of differing tarmac compared to 12 months ago.

Significant rain in the lead up to the event has ensured the cuts are full with mud which will then be brought onto the road surface making the conditions increasingly slippery after each pass.

“It seems there is a lot more cuts which are now rough and deep with more shape edges on the tarmac and there were a lot of punctures on the recce which is not normal,” said Rovanpera.

“For me it seems rougher than last year. I had many cuts that were fine last year and this year they are not. It seems a lot rougher.

“I think it it will be a bit more puncture management this year than normal. We had so many punctures on the recce, it can be that if you are more clever it will reward you more this year.”

Rovanpera topped Thursday’s shakedown held in a subdued atmosphere following the death of Hyundai driver Craig Breen in testing for the event last week.

Toyota team-mate and championship leader Sebastien Ogier, who won the inaugural WRC visit to Croatia in 2021, shared Rovanpera’s views on the stages this weekend.

Sebastien Ogier, Benjamin Veillas, Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Sebastien Ogier, Benjamin Veillas, Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Toyota Racing

Ogier, competing in a partial coming this year, will start first on the road virtue of his win in Mexico last month, but feels this advantage will be reduced if the weather stays dry due to mud already on the stages.

“It is worse than two years ago but we didn’t have any rain,” said Ogier, who was third fastest in shakedown, while team-mate Elfyn Evans managed only one shakedown run due to a technical issue.

“It was raining the last week more or less and the cuts are now full of mud and after the recce there is already a lot on the road.

“It is never bad to be in front but it is already dirty anyway so I don’t expect a real advantage, but it will depend on the weather because if it rains again it will create more mud, and it will get worse, but yes the puncture risk is there.

“If it is muddy and raining the advantage of being first on the road can be massive as we saw with Kalle last year.

“There are some sections where you need to do you best to stay safe.

“It is difficult because here the amount of cuts are huge and you cannot avoid them otherwise you will lose a minute per stage.

“This is the risk you need to manage as best as you can. I have to say I fear some of the sections a bit.”

Toyota has registered only Rovanpera and Ogier to score manufacturer points instead of its usual three crews, in a move of solidarity after Hyundai’s decision to field a reduced two-car line-up following Breen’s death. Hyundai is carrying a special tribute livery in honour of the Irishman.

The rally begins on Friday with crews set to tackle eight stages.

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